The finalists for WashingtonExec’s Pinnacle Awards were announced Oct. 8, and we’ll be highlighting some of them until the event takes place virtually Nov. 12.
Next is Diversity & Inclusion Executive of the Year finalist Jan Johnson, who’s senior program manager at Array Information Technology. Here, she talks success, turning points, future focuses and more.
What has made you successful in your current role?
In my current role, being a transparent and transformational leader has made me successful. Change is very hard, but change is inevitable. It is important to be a leader that can be honest and show that he or she is human.
As unconventional as it may seem, I still try hard to model that it is OK to not have all the answers. It is also OK to not be perfect in your answers and actions. We should never be afraid of scrutiny when we act with integrity and best intent.
Encouraging this type of culture has been more energizing than anything else for the team and our customer. I feel I am successful when our team and others can feel comfortable and confident not only operating, but also being successful in such an environment.
What was a turning point or inflection point in your career?
Surprisingly, the major inflection point in my career was not winning a particular contract or achieving a certain title. The major inflection point in my career was making a conscious decision to only invest in career choices that support my personal values: keep my family and beliefs top priority; allow me to make a difference in my daily work; and be valued for who I am as an individual.
When I made the decision to join ARRAY, it was clear that this is a family that supports my values and allows me to live in my values. Everything else along the way becomes an added bonus.
What are your primary focus areas going forward, and why are those so important to the future of the nation?
My primary focus areas going forward include continuous advocacy for engaging the next generation and encouraging more interest in STEM/STEAM areas. I think it is important to the future of our nation because we are experiencing a wide gap in expertise in the sciences and technology.
It is not that the expertise does not exist in younger people — I do not believe we show them the exciting impact of something that may only be considered an academic interest or a fun hobby. There are some very young, brilliant minds at work today.
Today, our younger generation has much easier access to technology and resources than ever available in the past. These resources are helping to shape what can become a career! We should be reaching them early on to help foster and encourage that interest.
How do you help shape the next generation of government leaders/industry leaders?
Because it is one of my primary focus areas, I often speak to the next generation in classroom and event forums to help them understand my current role. When I was younger, I always had an interest in math and science; however, I always felt my career choices were very limited.
I am always excited to share with the next generation all the ways my academic interests and hobbies are used in my current career. It is a way to show young people with the same interests that there is a place for them among future leaders in the government and industry.
It is a great feeling to see that moment of connection in young people. To hear that someone else made a career of all their interests is very reassuring. Whether it is video games, coding, math, physics or puzzle solving, there is a place! The technical and brilliant thinkers of the future are our next leaders. It is always very exciting to encourage that.
Which rules do you think you should break more as a government/industry leader?
Being an untraditional leader, I think I already break quite a few of the rules. But the rule I think I should break more as a government/industry leader is to have fun. I believe there seems to be an unwritten rule that fun and work cannot blend. If work cannot be fun, then why are you doing it? Work can be productive and fun at the same time. I do believe in boundaries and being professional; however, I believe in enjoying life and work is where most of us spend the majority of our time in life.
Often, I am a bit hesitant to lighten situations because it may be interpreted as unprofessional. But I find that the fun is extremely contagious. Sometimes, it can be as small as a well-timed GIF or meme to lighten an overly weighty or excessively formal situation. As a leader, showing a lighter side can really have an impact on an organization’s culture.
Looking back at your career, what are you most proud of?
Looking back at my career, I am most proud to say that I have balance. There are some who have argued that there is no such thing as “balance.” I respectfully disagree. Yes, balance is relative, and it does take experience and time to gauge how much is needed to juggle the multiple aspects of a demanding professional and personal life.
I am very proud to model hard work based on being ethical, contributing to the mission and making use of all my interests. I am proud to demonstrate to my three young children and others that it can be done, and it is possible. I believe modeling this balance encourages others to pursue a career that may otherwise be very intimidating or unachievable.
In my career, I believe it is important to attract and encourage others as the future generation of innovators. It is equally important to model to woman, mothers, minorities, and those from other underrepresented groups that this is possible! I am proud that my career has given me the platform and opportunity to be a positive example.